June 29, 2013

Life is weird

So things have been a little weird of late.  Not only the tough last 6 months with SOF's family, but watching as my career cratered.  Of course that means that my 30th high school reunion would be this summer.  I committed before I realized, of course, and decided to brave it.  It wasn't without much fear and trepidation, and a very near last second bailout that I finally pushed my way through the door.  

It was ok.  I am still trying to process all this, because I think high school can carry a lot of weight for those short 3 or 4 years.  Not sure why, really, but seeing those people brought an emotional response that I am still trying to understand.  

I had some help getting ready.  Not only the amazing support from SOF, but my numerous friends and family members who have been so encouraging through all of this.  Then a couple of odd ones.  An ex-girlfriend who commented on my "career falling apart" comment with "career, schmeer."  Then a serendipitous meeting over dinner at the brew pub in Hays, Kansas, with a retired English professor who not only completely understood my career issue, but encouraged me to walk in with my head high.  

Not sure I did that, but I went, and had some really nice connections with people I have not seen for 30 years.  Some I expected, but many I did not.  It wasn't all seamless.  I sat down with women from my choir days (we were in a pretty elite choir in high school, so it was a small group).  One looked at me and had to look again at my name tag before she would talk to me.  "Hey, Jenny Slater.  Hey, Jenny Slater.  Hey, Jenny Slater."  

But that didn't bother me at all.  Trying to explain my life was sometimes hard, but not impossible.  It was pleasant to see some of the most successful people respond so nicely, and without a bit of arrogance.  The only annoying one was the woman who could not stop talking about just "how smart her kids were.  Sure, we were all good students, but these kids take after their dad and are just brilliant..."  Sigh.  

But those interactions didn't dominate.  It may take me a bit to makes sense of this, but I think it was a good idea.  But the universe has a funny sense of humor.  

June 24, 2013

Conservative cruelty

I have long been a critic of conservative politics, but have, for the most part, believed that my conservative friends were not cruel toward the poor and needy.  Far from it, actually, as most of them are involved in charities that help the poor, and attend churches that have an outreach.

When it came to policy, I believed that they, and the people they voted for, had an overly optimistic view of what poverty looked like.  They believed, I assume, that poor people genuinely were locked in dependency on government handouts, and reducing that would nudge them into the work place.  Or that there was so much corruption and fraud in the programs, that no actual people would suffer.

Over the last few years, however, we have seen conservative hatred toward even the working poor, best exemplified by Romney's sneer about the 47% who are dependent on the government and pay no taxes.  Conservatives have attacked working teachers and firefighters--demonized those with multiple jobs, and have actually worked to cut overtime pay and further weaken unions.  Message:  even if you work hard, conservatives and Republicans still hate your guts.

A great example of this kind of malevolence is this most recent failed farm bill.  In what has become typical fashion, conservatives decided that we are spending far too much on the poor.  Not on farm subsidies, even to people who have raked in millions in from the government, all while quoting the Bible as he called food stamps "theft."

In this recent bill, conservatives not only cut food stamps, they capped state spending on employment and training.  Hear that?  They cut food stamps, while making it harder for states to get people off welfare and off food stamps.  This bullshit about wanting people to work is just that.  They just don't like poor people, and want nothing to do with any safety net.  All while quoting the Bible.

Sigh.  Gag.

June 16, 2013

The decline of higher education

Not really hyperbole, and certainly not just about me and my latest battles with the job market.  I read this article yes, in Al Jazeera, of all places, that notes that today some 76% of college professors are adjuncts.  They average 2,700 per class with no benefits, no job security, and no say.  So I am far from alone.

And while the article focuses, perhaps too much, on the psychology of why people like me put themselves through this and don't just go find another job, it is still well worth reading.  After all, to be very honest, while I have been "exploited" pretty heavily since I started teaching college courses, for much of that time, it worked well for me.  Our economic situation was not that of many in the field, and so for a while, I was content to teach a few courses for the University (at a rate nearly double that average pay) with none of the meetings, advising, committee, to say nothing of not having to publish.  It was a symbiotic relationship with my tenured friends.  My work allowed them to do more research, and along the way, I was able to add small, but vibrant classes to majors and non-majors alike. In that, I was extremely fortunate for a while, and I am glad for that.

At my university, the student fees that paid for my modest stipend became too attractive for the administration to just let go back to the departments.  That ended my run there, and I am not exactly sure what to do with that.  Are they trying to avoid the "adjunctification" of the academy?  Or are they simply trying to make more revenue.  Student enrollment has not declined, and they already have tenure track people on salary.  I guess the argument was to make those people teach more and pocket those fees.  That seems to be what occurred, anyway.

Perhaps I am a bad one to complain about this as I was rather happy to be exploited while it lasted.  I think that in the long run, we are looking at a commodification of learning.  As one of my friends noted on Facebook this morning (and I should note that much of the support I am hearing from friends comes from tenured colleagues):
The recent mess causing all the layoffs is also a consequence of deliberate legislative efforts to starve public education into a must-commercialize mode that requires abolition of tenure and normalizes faculty work at much less than a living wage.
This is undoubtedly true.  State support for higher education has been in steep decline since the 80s, as has been support for national funding of research into science and technology.  All of that has served to force Universities to reach out to the private sector for funding.  On one hand, that isn't a bad thing, but on the other, it means that people like the Koch brothers can essentially purchase an economics department to continue support for their own economic needs.

I think all of those issues need addressing.  Universities appear to have embraced the idea of simply selling college as a consumer good, and are now building entertainment facilities to attract students.  Climbing walls, water parks, etc., rather than investing in smaller classrooms and more faculty.  Anglican and I are convinced that part of the problem with the University is that so many insiders still believe (rather naively) that their primary mission is still education and research, while the evidence suggests that for most administrations, the goal appears to be more revenue.  This is bad for the students as well, as I constantly run into students who see their degree as a consumer good they purchase, rather than a reflection of what they have learned.

For today, that is going to have to wait, and it looks increasingly like it will be someone else's issue.  The academy doesn't want me, so they will have to battle MOOCs, water parks, and the continued attacks on tenure and academic freedom.  For me, my bitterness is broadly at conservatives who continue to gleefully gut academics, but also directly at the community college for their open disrespect of my ability and contribution.  And finally, just frustration toward those inside the academy who seem to have internalized their own experience as to make them really more worthy than those of us outside.  From the Al Jazeera piece:
On Twitter, I wondered why so many professors who study injustice ignore the plight of their peers. "They don't consider us their peers," the adjuncts wrote back. Academia likes to think of itself as a meritocracy - which it is not - and those who have tenured jobs like to think they deserved them. They probably do - but with hundreds of applications per available position, an awful lot of deserving candidates have defaulted to the adjunct track.
The plight of the adjunct shows how personal success is not an excuse to excuse systemic failure. Success is meaningless when the system that sustained it - the higher education system - is no longer sustainable. When it falls, everyone falls. Success is not a pathway out of social responsibility.

June 13, 2013

Dreams die hard

I just found out that my latest application for full-time teaching ended up where most of them have--in the trash can.  This one hurts a little more because I really thought I had a chance.  I have been teaching at this particular community college for the last 5 years and have a pretty impressive resume of teaching experience both online and in person.   I have a phd, have one publication (which matters not to community colleges, to be fair), and have had very good teaching evaluations from students over the years.  When I applied last year to a different community college, I had to pull those evaluations together and was rather surprised at how the vast majority of them were positive.

Not that any of this matters.  I sit here watching Phd after Phd come out of the same school and land jobs.  Some of them are in places I would never want to live, to be fair, but many of them have landed in very good positions.  I have no idea how to make sense of any of this.  As I have written before, those inside academia often act rather cultish about it, and look at those of us who teach the majority of the courses in about the same way that suburban dwellers look at the migrant workers roofing their house.

I kind of get that.  If you get inside, you have to believe it is on your merit, and not just the luck of the draw of being in the right place at the right time.  Either that or the people who get hired are just better than me.  That is a possibility.  A frustrating one, but one nonetheless.  I am told over and over that I am an excellent teacher, though most of those who tell me that have never actually seen me teach.  I am told that I am good with people (not that my blog readers can tell) and that I would make an excellent colleague.  I am told that I am very good in interviews.  Last year's community college told me that I had put together an excellent presentation and he had absolutely no suggestions for improving it.

But they weren't going to hire me.  With this one, even more frustration as they didn't even bother to interview me.  This from a department who has hired several people with only master's degrees and with very questionable people skills.

I apologize for the whining.  I know there are people here in Oklahoma who are homeless after major storms.  I know there are people suffering with serious health issues and family loss and tragedy.  In that context, my life still looks pretty good.

But this one hurts.  I have been studying history at a serious level since 1990.  I have been teaching and honing my craft since 1997 (off and on).  When I put together my vita this last time I had to re-categorize all my teaching experience because listing the individual classes would take too much space. All for nothing.  Well, not nothing.  Those classes and those students still matter.  But I have had a dream for a long time of being able to teach fulltime at a place where I could do more than teach the intro course.

But some dreams are not meant to be.  Clearly.